Willows Activity Farm Easter Eggstravaganza event is a fun day out that we have been to every year for a number of years and yet it still works just as well as it is suitable for a range of ages. This year we were lucky enough to get a free family ticket through Herts Big Weekend but we did wonder whether this might affect the size of the crowd. Luckily, although it was busy, it didn’t seem particularly packed. And there is plenty of space and lots to do which helps it feel less crowded too.
The schedule of events is carefully timed so that you can still do the majority of activities and shows even if you are only there for half a day, like we were, but there is certainly more than enough to do for a whole day out too. We were able to do everything we wanted without feeling rushed from one thing to the next but without much spare time to fill either!
Some of the highlights of this particular event include the Bunny Hop show, Easter Garden egg hunt, meet and greets with Peter Rabbit, Lilly Bobtail, Benjamin Bunny and Easter Bunny, and various shows by Peter Rabbit and friends – including a brand new show featuring all three characters on stage together. We didn’t see this particular show but we did watch the Bunny Hop show with the Easter Bunny.
Squiggle loved this show and got really into it. One song in particular about chocolate really made her laugh and it was really catchy; she has remembered alot of it to sing to herself after just hearing it that once!
The Easter Garden is open for most of the day, daily throughout the Easter Eggstravaganza event. Here you are given a basket on entry and then search the garden to find five different coloured eggs. Once you have completed the hunt you can exchange the five eggs you found for yummy chocolate prizes.
This is also where the Easter Bunny makes an appearance for meet and greet sessions, so be sure to check the schedule if you want to time your visit right! (Entry to Easter Garden is only permitted once).
Other activities also available at Willows include Peter Rabbit playground, agility course, sand pit, funfair rides, bouncy castle and slide, animal encounters, tractor ride, indoor role-play village, tractors, soft play, and arts and crafts. Plus of course lots of animals! There is also a large cafe and gift shop. For further information see Willows Activity Farm website.
Santa Spectacular Willows Activity Farm is a great day out at any time of year. But Squiggle particularly loves their festive event Santa Spectacular, which runs daily from the last week of November until Christmas eve. There are a variety of seasonal activities on offer, such as ice skating, writing a letter to Santa, Festive Wood Ride, shows, making a cuddly toy, and of course an opportunity to meet the man himself! In addition, there are also some new activities for this year, including elf school, snowball shoot-out and a 3D film sleigh ride. We didn’t do anywhere near everything, but that is what is so nice about having so many options, families can pick and choose what they most want to do!
We visited on a weekday in November so it was fairly quiet. At the entrance we were greeted by an elf, which I’m sure many children would be delighted by! For a minority of children it might be slightly daunting to be approached on arrival, but the other elf and the lovely lady at the ticket kiosk were aware of this and discreetly addressed it by calling her over to give us some space. I must say I was really grateful for their help and support in starting our day off on the right foot! For most though, I’m sure it is a great welcome that adds to the festive atmosphere and magic of Christmas.
Once in the farm, we headed to the magical ice rink first because this is one of Squiggle’s favourite activities to do there. When we arrived, it had just opened and was still empty so we had it to ourselves! Squiggle can no longer fit into over-the-shoe style skates so she wore proper ice skates for the first time, which she was very excited about. The rink is synthetic, which makes it less slippery than real ice, but the polar bear and penguin supports are handy for less experienced skaters of any age!
Squiggle was keen to meet Santa so we made sure to fit that into our day next. We got very lucky and found it completely empty! This meant we were able to browse the cute Christmas scenes and displays on the way through to the grotto at our leisure then go straight in to see Father Christmas as soon as we were ready, with no queuing.
We had a quick chat with Santa in his wonderful homely grotto, then he presented Squiggle with a key to his magic toy shop (where they can choose any toy they want!) and the photographer took some photos. Squiggle then hurried excitedly to the toy shop, which is filled with a good selection of toys to suit a variety of interests and ages, where she promptly found a cuddly toy seal – that she had just told Santa was on her wish list! (What luck!!!) We also purchased a couple of the professional photos taken because own cameras are not allowed in the grotto. They certainly weren’t cheap but they are lovely photos!
Back outside, there was a meet and greet with a gorgeous real husky dog. This seemed like a good cue to go and make our own cuddly toy version, which included in the entrance price. This is also where you can write and post a letter to Father Christmas, but Squiggle opted to do this at home instead when she was less distracted!
Dotted around Willows, both inside and out, are lots of festive displays that really add to the atmosphere. For example, this one is next to the ice rink by the entrance to the grotto.
Aside from the festive fun, there are plenty of regular Willows Farm facilities available too. Squiggle let off some steam in the indoor soft play and outdoors too, including the fab new Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground that opened earlier this year. We also popped into the animal barn quickly to see the animals, including the reindeer.
It was a fantastic day out that we all really enjoyed. For more information, and to save money by booking tickets online, check out the Willows Activity Farm website. We are feeling very festive after our visit, Merry Christmas everyone!
Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground at Willows Farm in St Albans, Hertfordshire is a million pound plus development based on the famous Beatrix Potter characters and CBeebies animated series. It opened its doors in April 2016, the year that marks the 150th anniversary of author Beatrix Potter, who has captured our hearts and imaginations for over 100 years with her well-loved children’s tales. It is also the only one of its kind in the world, how exciting!
There are different sections within the Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, such as Mr McGregor’s Garden, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s kitchen and laundry area, Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention, Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond, Lily Bobtail’s Nature area, Benjamin Bunny’s Tree Top Adventures and of course Peter Rabbit’s Secret Treehouse too!
Peter Rabbit’s secret treehouse is set around a 100 year old ash tree.
I particularly love Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond with its lovely little range of interesting instruments. These are good for various age children I imagine, and they are a great sensory activity.
We haven’t ventured into Mrs Tiggy- Winkle’s area yet because Squiggle is usually too busy playing in the other areas but I have had a quick peek and it looks lovely, particularly for younger children. I wonder if the confined space of the indoor bit might get abit much for some SEND children during busier times but it did look like there were some great sensory activities in there too. We also haven’t explored Mr McGregor’s garden yet. This area includes opportunities for ‘heavy’ lifting of giant radish, which is another great sensory activity. It all looks like alot of fun!
Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention is an interactive latest technology feature where children can play games about colours or calculations, and dance to music. It reminded me somewhat of a fancier version of the dance-off style arcade games or dance mats you can buy for use with consoles at home! It is a nice activity but it can be difficult during busier times if multiple children try to play on it at once. Also, the sound effects coming from here combined with the various other sound effects nearby is potentially overstimulating and I think could easily cause sensory overload for some (SEND) children. The activity itself is certainly a great game though if you have the chance to properly play it!
One thing I feel could be improved is that it would be far better if the various interactive ‘noisy’ features were more spread out or if there were less of them. Ideally it would be useful if there was more control over them too! Obviously during busier periods this perhaps wouldn’t make much difference, as most likely everything would be in use for the majority of the time regardless, but during quieter times it would be really beneficial if the interactive features could be interacted with rather than automatically activated. For example, Benjamin bunny seems to ‘talk’ at you everytime you get close, as do various other things. I’m sure many SEND children would be much more comfortable if they could choose for this to happen and feel able to move about freely without inadvertently setting off noises around them. However, this does not stop Squiggle enjoying this fantastic playground! (Although I suspect it may do for some).
Another part I especially love is Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area. I am not sure why this section, or the rest of the playground, isn’t actually made from more natural materials, rather than just made to ‘look’ that way. I assume this is due to durability and maintenence I would guess but I don’t know. Either way it does have a lovely natural vibe to it that I really like. Counting the rings on the old tree stump to discover the age of the tree is interesting!
We haven’t caught any of the shows yet, although they are on at regular times daily, but we did meet both Peter Rabbit and Lily Bobtail (during two separate visits) which was a massive highlight for Squiggle; she loves character meet and greets!
In addition to the actual adventure playground itself, the Peter Rabbit theme continues in other parts of the farm too; including indoor imaginative play at Cotton-Tail Village and the outdoor assault course Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail.
All in all, Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground certainly adds a brilliant new dimension to the overall Willows Farm experience! Entry into Peter Rabbit Adventure playground is included in the general ticket price for Willows Activity Farm, and the cost of this varies throughout the year. See website for further details, and book online to save!
Van Hage is a large garden centre in Hertfordshire. It has a massive free car park and the garden centre itself covers a very generous sized area, both indoors and outside. In addition to the huge selection of brands and items for sale, there is also a restaurant, miniature railway (small additional charge), free animal gardens and various events.
During the festive season, they also have a very popular ice rink. Sessions can be booked online in advance, which is essential during busier periods. There are dedicated parent and toddler slots and a very limited number of SEND sessions too. Prices vary, but most sessions cost £10 per adult or £8 per adults, with certain concessions available, plus there is an additional charge for supports from £5 each. Further details are on the website.
Van Hage has a great Christmas selection, with cute displays and a Santa’s Grotto. I don’t know what the actual grotto experience is like as we haven’t visited, but the rest of the garden centre certainly helps us to get into the Christmas spirit!
More photos from a previous visit can be found here.
Hertfordshire has a wealth of parks, nature reserves, conservation areas and other beautiful outdoor spaces, important historical sites, major attractions, and other lovely places to go and things to do. It is just outside of London, with easy routes into the capital city, so that is also an added draw to the area.
I could easily pick far more than five things to mention but rules are rules, so here goes…
St Albans is home to the ancient site of Verulamium, a large Roman town, features of which are still present today. There is a hypocaust with beautiful mosaics, Roman theatre (considered one of the best examples in the country), an award-winning museum, and even remains of the Roman wall within Verulamium park itself. There are also Roman baths in Welwyn. Great for history enthusiasts!
Much of this world famous movie series was filmed at Leavesden, which is now home to the hugely popular WB studio tour. A must do for any Harry Potter fan. Film fans might be interested to know that Elstree studios and Pinewood studios are also nearby.
This stunning cathedral is voted top by Tripadvisor for things to do in Hertfordshire. It has the longest Nave in England, bell tower, extensive medieval wall paintings and gorgeous glass painting, The Rose Window, unveiled by the late Princess Diana in 1989. People have been visiting the shrine of St Albans for over 1700 years and it is a national pilgrim site.
Recently we visited Hatchlands Park, which is a beautiful National Trust site in Guildford, Surrey. Being a huge fan of Sylvanian families, Squiggle was keen to do the Sylvanian Families nature trail, open until the end of this year.
There is a small charge to enter the park, including the Sylvanian Families Trail, of £6 per adult and £3 per child, or £15 for a family ticket (these prices are for park only, cost to enter whole site including house is extra. Prices are on the website here). National Trust members get in free.
The trail has a series of signs as you walk through the wood, each with nature questions and clues from members of woodland Sylvanian families. There is a more difficult question at each stop, making it fun and informative for all ages.
We did get abit confused when we reached the end because there was no obvious finishing point. We probably should have realised from the number of clues but even so, a clear indication, such as a finish sign or message from one of the Sylvanian families, would have been a nice additional touch.
Regardless, we really enjoyed the trail and the wooden sculptures were lovely. Squiggle got so excited each time she spotted one and loved cuddling them!
Whilst we were there, we also went to Hatchlands Park playground. It has lovely natural play features, including a wonderful treehouse. Squiggle really enjoyed playing here and it fitted in beautifully with the surrounding natural environment.
Southend On Sea in Essex is a popular seaside choice for many. It boasts stretches of both pebble and sand beaches, play water fountains, play areas on the sand, plus a brand new lagoon for paddling and swimming.
For those looking for a little more action, there is a Sealife Centre on the seafront, an award winning funfair, indoor play centre, pier, traditional style amusement arcades and a large selection of shops, restaurants and cafes.
For us, it is a relatively short drive away from Hertfordshire that offers us a fun and relaxed day out by the sea, so is definitely a winner!
For more information about Southend, including special events, things to do and places to stay, see Visit Southend
Three Shells Lagoon at Southend-on-Sea in Essex is a newly built man made lagoon that opened this summer. The lagoon is the size of a football pitch and is 1.1 metres at its deepest points.
Despite visiting in the last week of September, it was still warm enough to wriggle into our swimsuits and go for a swim. It was cold, but we soon got used to it! Squiggle enjoyed practising her swimming skills in the sea water, as well as paddling and splashing around in general. I think it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy swimming in a natural environment, whilst not being entirely in the open water with an inexperienced young swimmer. I imagine it would also be great for learning water sports.
One thing I did wonder about was how the lagoon water is kept fresh and hygenic. So I did some research and found the design quite interesting. “Sheets of welded metal inside the rock walls retain the seawater when the tide comes in, whilst rubberised material at the base of the wall will prevent silt and mud from entering and exiting the lagoon. Valves have been installed into the wall so that the lagoon can be emptied and refilled, ensuring a high quality of regularly-replenished bathing water.” (Southend government website) For further information about the lagoon www.southend.gov.uk
As the summer clutches on for one more burst of sunshine before autumn descends, I thought I would share some information and photos about Morris Playing Fields in London Colney, Hertfordshire. This is a popular summer destination amongst locals, mainly because it has a small outdoor paddling pool that is great for warmer days (or not so warm days too, if you are anything like us!)
The paddling pool has a walk-in shallow end and steps for the deeper end, which is approx 1 metre (disclaimer: this is my own estimate so no idea on actually accuracy of this statement!)
The only downside is, because it is a very small local outdoor paddling pool in a confined space, that it can get extremely busy and this can be abit too overwhelming or overstimulating for some children, especially those with SEND.
However, if the visit is timed right, during a quieter period, it is a lovely place to play!
The paddling pool is in a fenced off area behind the separately enclosed playground.
There is a small carpark adjacent to the playground that serves this and the paddling pool, as well as sports facilities at the playing field itself.
The playground has a variety of equipment, suited to a range of ages in the younger age bracket. I believe there is another facility for older children/ teens at a different nearby site but I have not yet visited this.
It has a slightly retro feel about it, it reminds me of the playgrounds I visited as a child. Very old style, but well loved all the same!
The helter skelter slide is a particular favourite…
For more information about Morris Playing Fields see pdf flyer
There is plenty to do at Paradise Wildlife Park. In addition to the wide variety of animals, there are also various other areas such as soft play, paddling pool, sand pit, construction area, go carts, train, woodland walk, bouncy castles and several play areas, as well as shows, talks and feeds. There are also various ride-ons and games for additional cost. The price is reasonable in my opinion, in comparison to similar days out, especially given the amount of facilities included in the price and the high running costs of the zoo. However, there are often discounts available through groupon and similar sites, which makes it somewhat more affordable. More information about Paradise Wildlife Park can be found on their website https://www.pwpark.com